PETER BJÖRN AND JOHN at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Sunday (May 6), 8 pm. $15. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Enduring yet another day of back-to-back phone interviews, Björn Yttling is beginning to think that calling the latest Peter Björn and John album Writer's Block maybe wasn't such a clever idea.
At least not after every journalist on the line either commends him for his openness about his creative constipation or asks him how he managed to overcome it. Because if Yttling and his pals Peter Morén and John Eriksson were having difficulty coming up with tunes, you'd never know it from listening to the melodic magic that fills their new disc.
The CD has made the sweetly harmonizing Swedish trio an overnight sensation around the world - although they've been together for eight years. But that's another story.
Let's get to the bottom of this whole Writer's Block thing. Evidently, it had nothing to do with eating too much cheese or wearing turtleneck sweaters that cut off circulation to the brain.
"Oh no, no, no," chuckles Yttling from his home in Stockholm. "The title refers to the street where we live, which is just a few hundred metres from our studio and also our reheasal space. Many of our friends in other bands like the Concretes, Shout Out Louds and the Hives all live in Peter's building and work nearby, too. It's like Stockholm's version of the Brill building."
That helps explain the group's cosy relationship with the Concretes and their former singer Victoria Bergsman, whose familiar voice on Peter Björn and John's song Young Folks turned it into the group's breakthrough hit last year. The catchy number rocketed into the UK top 40 pop charts on the way to becoming NME's second-best track of 2006, narrowly edged out of the top spot by Hot Chip's Over And Over.
"The song Young Folks definitely was the icebreaker for us, but I think people are finding that our album is quite strong all the way through. We're not some kind of one-hit-wonder group who puts out a record with one good song and a bunch of filler."
The sound of Writer's Block isn't too different from the group's self-titled 02 debut or 05's Falling Out, which makes you wonder, what changed? There must be more to it than just bringing Bergsman into the mix.
"From our first recording, our sound is pretty much as you hear it now. We use the same recording tricks, so anyone who knows the early stuff will recognize the use of delay, tape echo and the little bits of distortion. But our songs have become more focused in terms of arrangements, lyrics and setting a mood.
"We didn't put anything into these songs that would detract from the feeling we wanted to create. In the early days, we might've added a bridge with some lyrics about something else entirely - just because it was fun - but now it's only about keeping a sharp focus on the emotion we're trying to express with a particular song.
"The Zombies were a big influence in that regard. I always thought their music was cool and soulful, too. The reason I started playing the keyboards was because of the Zombies."
Lately, Yttling has been applying the production techniques he developed while making PB&J's albums to the recordings of his pals. Expect to hear Yttling-produced recordings from the Shout Out Louds and the anticipated Taken By Trees solo project of Bergsman in the near future.
"Victoria has a magical voice. And as much as I love the Concretes, her voice works best when there's not too much going on around it. Without so many instruments, you can really hear it on the new recordings. Her voice is the centre of everything, and it's amazing. She's made a great, great album, and I'm not just saying that because I produced it. You'll be able to hear it when Rough Trade releases it on June 18.
"The new album I did with the Shout Out Louds, Our Ill Wills, is just awesome. It'll be out in September, and the new Sahara Hotnights album should be out soon, too. That's a good power pop record. If you like the Saints and Shocking Blue, you'll love it."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Even though Peter Björn & John have had huge hits internationally, his group hasn't yet attained the popularity of former NHL stars at home in Stockholm
Being from Sweden, Yttling's early Stanley Cup prediction was all to predictable